Facts and Events
William Shirley (2 December 1694 – 24 March 1771) was a British colonial administrator who was the longest-serving governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay (1741–1749 and 1753–1756) and then Governor of the Bahamas in the 1760s. He is best known for his role in organizing the 1745 Siege of Louisbourg during King George's War, and for his role in military affairs during the French and Indian War. He spent most of his years in the colonial administration of North America working to defeat New France, but his lack of formal military training led to political difficulties and his eventual downfall.
Politically well connected, Shirley began his career in Massachusetts as advocate general in the admiralty court, and quickly became an opponent of Governor Jonathan Belcher. He joined with Belcher's other political enemies to bring about Belcher's recall, and was appointed Governor of Massachusetts Bay in Belcher's place. He successfully quieted political divisions within the province, and was able to bring about united action against New France when King George's War began in 1744. The successful Siege of Louisbourg, which Shirley had a major role in organizing, was one of the high points of his administration.
After King George's War Shirley became mired in disputes over funding and accounting for the war effort, and returned to England in 1749 to deal with political and legal matters arising from those disputes. He was then assigned to a commission established by Great Britain and France to determine the colonial borders in North America. His hard-line approach to these negotiations contributed to their failure, and he returned to Massachusetts in 1753.
Military matters again dominated Shirley's remaining years in Massachusetts, with the French and Indian War beginning in 1754. Shirley led a military expedition to reinforce Fort Oswego in 1755, and became Commander-in-Chief, North America upon the death of General Edward Braddock. His difficulties in organizing expeditions in 1755 and 1756 were compounded by political disputes with New York politicians, and over military matters with Indian agent Sir William Johnson. These disagreements led to his recall in 1757 as both Commander-in-Chief and as governor. In his later years he served as governor of the Bahamas, before returning to Massachusetts, where he died.